Venkatraman Balakrishnan is Chairman of Exfinity Venture Partners LLP, a VC fund for tech startups. He served as Whole-Time Director of Infosys Limited and was the Chief Financial Officer of the company. Mr. Balakrishnan has over 30 years of experience and is an expert in corporate finance, international taxation, risk management, strategy, etc.
He is associated with various organisations in India and is a trustee of the Akshaya Patra Foundation. Mr. Balakrishnan holds a B.Sc. degree from the University of Madras.
He joined the Aam Aadmi Party the day after he quit Infosys. He also stood as the AAP candidate for Bangalore Central Lok Sabha seat in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections. In this conversation with Meryl Garcia, he talks about quitting Infosys, joining AAP, and life after the elections.
Was there a defining moment that made you want to quit Infosys and join politics?
I left Infosys in December, 2013, and around that time the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) came to power in Delhi, which created a huge disruption in the Indian political space. It created an alternate point of view in a political system which was earlier built purely on money power, muscle power, and caste.
It was perhaps for the first time a political party was born on the platform of honesty and transparency, a party dedicated to addressing the problems of the common man rather than the crony capitalist. To me, AAP was the best start-up the country had ever produced and I wanted to support that idea, and hence joined the party.
What drew you to the Aam Aadmi Party?
Like everyone in the country I was also distraught with the political scenario. While disruptions are common in the corporate world, we had not seen much disruption in the political space in our country.
All the mainstream political parties were different shades of the same thing. I think AAP created the much-needed disruption in the political system of our country and that attracted me towards it.
What was the reaction you got from the people?
Naturally, people close to me were shocked and surprised. Some of them even said that even if i want to join a political party, I should join one of the mainstream parties.
But, for me it is more about being on the right side and supporting the right idea. Also, I thought my joining AAP will inspire many more people to come and support this idea.
And your family? Were they supportive of this move?
My family was totally against, initially. It took a lot of convincing. Finally, they all understood my point of view and then wholeheartedly supported me.
Are you still actively involved in the party?
I am in touch with the party regularly and get engaged, whenever my engagement will help strengthen the party.
What do you have to say to those who believe AAP is too focused on populism?
The income disparity in India is very high. While we have so many billionaires in the country. We also have a large part of the population below the poverty line. India needs to focus on achieving high economic growth and job creation to increase the income level of the country.
Successive governments have failed to do this. What we need is compassionate capitalism that addresses the needs of poor, while at the same time allows capitalism to thrive.
I do not think any political party in the country can ignore the needs of the poor. I think there needs to be a balance and if it is termed as populism, so be it.
Do you think as a Chief Minister, Arvind Kejriwal has lived up to people’s expectations?
I think so. The Delhi government had, from day one, focused on addressing the needs of the common man.
The reforms they are bringing in the areas of education, healthcare, ease of doing business, etc., are gaining lot of attention and praise from the citizens of Delhi.
Of course, because Delhi, being an Union Territory, the CM is constrained due to constant obstructions from both the LG and the Union government.
I think despite these constraints, the Chief Minister has lived up to the mandate given by the people of Delhi.
Many seem uncomfortable with the confrontational nature of AAP’s politics, with regard to dharnas etc. What are your views on this?
I think as a country we lack political maturity and oppose everything, just for the sake of opposition. AAP had to use non-traditional methods in its first term to achieve its goal and those were termed anarchy.
I think, the party and the leadership heard the voice of the people and focused fully on governance during its second term. It requires two hands to clap and confrontation is happening due to the non-cooperative Union government.
AAP is forced to challenge the Union government even to do things which are fully in its domain. I hope the Centre respects the mandate of the people and allows AAP to perform and fulfill the mandate given by Delhi’s people.
Do you have a vision for the party?
I am a member of the party and the party has clearly articulated its vision.
The party lacks prominent faces unlike other national parties. Is this a bad thing?
I think it is a part of growing up. Right now, AAP’s presence is limited to Delhi. With the kind of responses AAP is getting in other states, I don’t think it will take too long before it becomes a very strong, pan-India alternate political party, which will attract more people.
You are now helping fund startups in the country? How do you manage to balance work with political life?
I like to do different things in life and support wholeheartedly, all the causes which are close to my heart. With my background, I think I can add more value to the start up ecosystem in India, which could re-create the magic of the IT services industry in the early 90’s. I don’t think time is a constraint for me. If there are causes which are close to my heart, I can find the time.
Main photograph courtesy: LinkedIn